The means by which we make our “step-by-step ascent into the Eternal Presence” is not based directly on our actions. It is easy to see why this is so. Were it otherwise, the Final Judgment would require nothing more than a mechanical assessment at the end of our probation as to whether we had gone through the proper motions in every life situation. However, the terms of the New and Everlasting Covenant are much more demanding—as Jesus Himself taught when He contrasted lower and higher kinds of obedience in the Sermon on the Mount. The scriptures teach that the purpose of this life is much more than outward compliance with divine law. Ultimately, it is to prepare us to be “spiritually… born of God,” having received a “mighty change in [our] hearts” and “his image” in our countenances. Emphasizing this fact, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained that the “the Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become.” The final effect of our choices can be seen both in what we want and also in what we know.
One night at a reception, Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War in Abraham Lincoln’s administration, remarked to a friend that a certain man passing by was “a pretender, a humbug, and a fraud,” and said that he disliked his face. “But the poor man isn’t responsible for his face,” retorted the friend. “A man of fifty is responsible for his face!” countered Stanton.
Though it is easy to find exceptions to Stanton’s generalization, there is eternal truth in the words of Proverbs 23:7: “As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he.” President David O. McKay often quoted James Allen’s comment that: “A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.” In light of these things, we may certainly say that the powerful presence of a good man or woman is not acquired in an instant, but in the gradual transformation enabled by pure knowledge, righteous desires, Christlike deeds, and the sanctifying influence of the Holy Ghost.